Inspiration usually comes at unexpected times. Last night I heard about a French couple passing through Melbourne on an epic bike journey. They’re literally riding around the world. They’ve been on the road since 2006. Rather than riding to the clock, they emphasize the quality of the journey, taking in everything along the way. You can check out their site here. At the same time there was a new post on Winter heroics on the Rapha blog. This one was similar in spirit to the Cent Col challenge that they’ve been promoting recently, except rather than an event it was just a blog about various famous riders who have excelled when the thermometer drops, including the Australian, Phil Anderson. I felt like I could relate to this to some extent as this year I decided it was important for my development as a rider to push through the winter months. Indeed, My training stayed at a consistently high level during Winter, mainly because I was commuting 40kms regardless of the cold and rain of which there was plenty. It made me a stronger rider, unstoppable, at least as far as weather was concerned. Now this combination of inspirations was enough to stir even my coldy dull head into future travel mode.
Let’s jump back for a minute first just to put things in context a little. In ’95 I set out on my first long trip abroad. I had been inspired by stories I’d heard about travellers taking the overland route between Europe and Asia, passing through places like Kabul and the Khyber Pass, Kathmandu, Isfahan, etc.. It sounded like the ultimate adventure. I had all kinds of mental images ranging from Lawrence of Arabia to Indiana Jones, and other intrepid characters from history and myth. For various reasons, my trip ended after only 4 months. It had, however, given me a taste of the Himalayas and India. I’d taken the long trek to Everest Base Camp, fulfilling a dream I’d had since I was 8. There were plenty of ups and downs, all the ones you would expect travelling solo. I got sick, robbed (several times), made great friends, and much more. My adventures continued when I got home of course (that was the ‘real’ journey after all) but I did manage to visit most of the places in between at other times, on trips to the Middle East and Europe, so one way or another, I did make the journey, just not in the way I imagined. But this is the nature of life.
Today though, I’ve started thinking about a different journey, well similar actually but this time on a bike. This might be years away, maybe 15 or 20 even, but that’s ok. Putting in a sample route, between Amsterdam and Isfahan, brought up an estimate of over 12,000km and 75,000m of climbing. And that’s for just half the total journey!
More than anything I’m thinking about the nature of this kind of trip. Experience tells me nothing ever goes to plan. Apart from having a start and finish, there are lots of places I want to pass through. The way between them will depend on weather, local and international politics, road quality – and all the other variables I can’t imagine. I’ve never been one to take the direct path anyway. I’d rather take the most interesting path. Starting in Amsterdam, I’m thinking it would be great to ride down the West of France, maybe take in the Alps as well, then down the southern coast and the length of Italy before going on to Greece and Turkey. At every stage, I want to be receptive to local knowledge and opportunities that pop up on the way.
Being such a long road and having a family, I’m thinking one way of doing it would be to ride sections at a time. You know, maybe ride a month at a time. This would also be a good way of working with the weather and other seasonal variations, not to mention work commitments, whatever they are at the time. Hopefully also I’ll be able to ride parts of this with friends and even my family. Part of the French or Italian leg might be included in the riding trip being quietly planned with my old riding buddy from school days for our 40th birthdays. And further down the road, I hope my son Will will also join me on some adventures while Ophelia relaxes in a cosy country villa somewhere or refines her piaffe and passage.
As much as this is about riding, journeys, challenges and the rest of it, from another perspective I’m aware that this is about embracing another beginning, this time closer to 40 than 20. We did this when we had our son last year, but in some ways I know I’ve been resisting beginning something new since the end of my PhD. I’ve been looking for the next step, wanting it to be something that builds on what I’ve already done, and naturally enough as so much has been invested to get to this point. But the PhD was never intended as a career step. It was like travel, something I wanted to do for its own sake. When I remind myself of this, it becomes easier to contemplate starting something new. Nothing is lost. When we change paths we take with us everything gained from the experience, everything that makes us stronger, wiser, and even more capable of succeeding. More than so called ‘transferrable skills’, it’s the inner resources and self-knowledge that are the most valuable assets accumulate – the mental toughness, determination and resourcefulness that are essential for completion of any major task, and the knowledge that we can achieve whatever our heart and mind are set on.
So what’s your grand dream and what are you doing about it?